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WAAY 31 I-TEAM: Scammers using new tricks for robocalls

All week, our WAAY 31 I-Team is uncovering how prevalent robocalls are in North Alabama and how you may be unwittingly subjecting yourself to the unwanted calls. In this report, we explain the types of robocalls that intrude into our lives and the new tactics callers are using.

Posted: May 8, 2019 6:20 PM
Updated: May 10, 2019 12:00 PM

Our WAAY 31 I-Team is uncovering how prevalent robocalls are in North Alabama and how you may be unwittingly subjecting yourself to the unwanted calls.

"I just want to check out a couple books,” Marcus Grimes told WAAY 31. Marcus loves to read. So, it’s no surprise we caught up with him at the Decatur Public Library.

Marcus knows what he likes. “Scary stuff,” he said. “I love reading stuff like that.”

The library shelf may be full of fear. But, for Marcus, it’s not nearly as scary as robocalls. “Whooo! Right there!” He knows firsthand the scam calls can be as unstoppable as a zombie invasion.

Marcus just moved to our area. He’s opening a new chapter in his life in Decatur after moving from North Carolina. “Moved from Raleigh to Decatur, Alabama,” he said. Unfortunately, those pesky phone calls moved right along with him.

Marcus insists the time to end robocalls is long overdue. “It’s just unnecessary,” he said. “So many times a day. That’s the thing that gets me. I have at least 60, 65 calls a day, at least, on my phone.”

Spam callers try everything from A to Z. “The thing about it, they’ll hit me with like a 919 number, which is my area code. So, I’m thinking maybe that’s a residential number. Maybe it’s one of my friends or something.” Instead, it’s usually scammers.

What Marcus just described is called neighborhood spoofing. It’s perhaps the most common type of robocall. Scammers generate a fake local or regional number to trick you into answering.

Experts point to some of the most common ploys scammers use to reel you in. That includes everything from debt relief to health insurance to IRS scams. They’re all designed to steal your banking and other personal information.

And some robocalls show up seemingly from nowhere.

Ringless voicemail drops are one of the newest tactics robocallers are using. Your phone never rings, but your inbox is flooded with voicemails. It gets worse. Call block apps don’t protect you against ringless messages.

Companies use ringless voicemails claiming they’re not actual calls. They’ve used the loophole to skirt the Do Not Call Registry.

But a voicemail drop is a call according to a federal district court in Michigan. In a first, it ruled last year that ringless voicemails are subject to the same regulation as calls.

Some robocalls aren’t illegal. They’re just annoying. Prime examples include political calls and fundraisers.

There are even some good uses for robocalls.

Messages from your child’s school are important. Robocalls from your pharmacy letting you know your prescription is ready are useful, too.

But, it’s those scammers who push people too far.

“It’s just too much,” Marcus insists. “I pay my phone bill every month, and it’s for family, friends, job opportunities. Stuff like that, and it always seems to be these robocalls.”

Marcus Grimes wants to throw the book at robocallers. “Please! The whole book. Please.”

He’s ready for “The End” of unwanted calls. “Hey, man, this is really happening to Americans, and it’s just too much.”

Spam calls present some legal complexities. The Congressional Research Service points out many legitimate businesses, like telemarketers and sales companies, use robocalls. The calls may be nuisances, but they’re not necessarily illegal unless the intent is to rip off victims.

The same goes for neighborhood spoofing, which displays someone else’s phone number. An accepted use of spoofing is someone working from home but spoofing an employer’s phone number so people know who’s calling.

Coming up Thursday night on WAAY 31 News at 6, we’ll take a look at what wireless companies and government regulators are doing to fight robocalls.

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